GP Insights

GP Insights # 390, 25 July 2020

The race for Mars: UAE and China launch their deep space missions
Harini Madhusudan

What happened? 

On 19 July, the UAE launched its indigenously developed spacecraft called Hope from a base in Japan, destined to be the first interplanetary mission from the Arab world. The Mars mission of the UAE is aimed at understanding the atmosphere and the weather patterns of the planet. 

On 25 July, China launched Tianwen-1, with a lander, orbiter and rover, its first attempt to land on Mars. 

The third mission to Mars is said to be next week, a six-wheeled rover named Perseverance, to be launched by the US. The three missions to Mars, this year, mark the significance of deep- space exploration and the increase in the number of players involved in space. 

What is the background?

First, the "Race to Mars":  There have been 56 missions to Mars, and of them, 26 missions have been successful, and 12 attempts were made to land on its surface, 8 of them were successful. The race to Mars is referred to the competition between national space programmes, manufacturers and corporate players.  

Second, Mars is the nearest planet that can be reached after the moon: an outcome of the post- cold war interest in space, Mars offers evidence of rocks that preserve evidence of organics, the possibility of the past existence of life forms, the chemical building blocks of life. Since 1996, with the data from four orbiters and four, landed missions, the view of Mars as being an Earth-like world with a complex geologic history, has been proven. Naturally, the early bird gets the tastiest worm.

After the near-earth regions have been thoroughly utilized, space programmes have shown interest in exploring the lengths of the Solar system. Among the missions to mars this year, two are aimed at surface exploration, and one is aimed at studying the atmosphere and weather patterns. 

What does it mean?

Though all the three missions have their own goals, deep space exploration seems to be the next area of contestation for countries. The space as a domain has expanded, and the costs of planning a mission have become less expensive. The national prestige of having a successful mission, the promise of long-term gains leads these missions while displaying the political-economic interests of the nations investing in them. 

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